Faith Matters

First Holy Communion a special occasion for Polish families in Ireland

First Holy Communion in Pomeroy, Co Tyrone saw a large number of Poles travel to celebrate the sacrament with relatives. Pictured on the far left is St Mary's PS principal Damian Eannetta and on the right, parish priest Fr David Moore and P4 teacher Anne-Marie Devlin

FIRST Holy Communion ceremonies are always special occasions, bringing together families and communities in a celebration of faith and tradition.

And this is especially true for the thousands of Polish families living in Northern Ireland, for whom the sacrament is a hugely significant event in a child's life.

Large numbers of Poles have made the journey to Ireland over recent weeks and months to celebrate First Communion with grandchildren, nephews and nieces.

There are currently around 35,000 Polish people living in Northern Ireland, the largest group of non-nationals.

Jerome Mullen, Honorary Polish Consul in Northern Ireland, said it has been a very important time for those families.

"Holy Communion is a very traditional family occasion in Poland and would be regarded as quite significant in a child's life," he said.

"Children in Poland are prepared very carefully and strict rules are applied with regard the children and parents in regard to their faith."

There are now more than 10,000 'newcomer' children in the north's primary schools - more than half of them Polish. That figure has almost doubled in the past five years.

It means almost every school in the north has welcomed Poles, Portuguese, Latvians, Lithuanians and other nationalities into their classrooms, and has put in place policies to aid their integration into school life.

At St Mary's Primary School in Pomeroy, Co Tyrone, principal Damian Eannetta and his staff were keen to ensure the Polish families travelling for First Holy Communion in the parish would feel a full part of the ceremony.

Prayers in their home language were incorporated into the Mass, as well as Polish traditions such as bringing bread to the altar - in this case baked into the shape of beautiful basket.

Mr Eannetta said it is about making newcomer children feel a full part of school and parish life and bringing together the wider community in faith and learning.

"Many extended family members travel from Poland and other countries to support the children as they receive their sacraments, in this case First Communion," he said.

"Schools play an important role in promoting culture and language and celebrating diversity.

"The involvement of the community also supports the development of pupils, given that many language skills are developed outside the school context through involvement with various community organisations."

Among the gifts brought to the altar was a basket baked from bread

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